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KPCW invites members of the Friends of the Park City and Summit County libraries to review novels and non-fiction every month.

May 2023 Book Review | 'In the Lives of Puppets'

TJ Klune

TJ Klune’s new novel, “In the Lives of Puppets,” combines elements of “Pinocchio,” “Swiss Family Robinson” and “WALL-E” to tell a heartfelt tale of found family and what it means to be human.

In a machine-controlled dystopian future, Victor Lawson lives in a treehouse in an Oregon forest with his dad Giovanni. Vic is human, and Gio is an android inventor who raised Vic from infancy.

Vic spends his days searching the nearby metal scrapyards for parts, trying to bring old machines back to life. Two of his success stories are his friends Rambo and Nurse Ratched, short for “Registered Automaton To Care, Heal, Educate, and Drill.”

Rambo is an anxiety-ridden Roomba vacuum who loves to clean and ask questions. Nurse Ratched is a hilarious, sociopathic medical robot who finds joy in taking care of Vic and terrorizing Rambo…in a loving way.

This untraditional family cares deeply for one another and has made a comfortable home for themselves in the woods. Everything changes when Vic, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched find an android in the scrapyards who needs major repairs. They name the android Hap from letters they can see on a metal plate on his chest. Vic fashions wood to fill in the missing areas of skin on Hap’s body and face. He shapes a wooden heart and adds a drop of his own blood to replace Hap’s dead battery. This is all done without Gio’s knowledge. Hap comes back to life with his new power source and a series of events is set in motion that changes everything.

Gio, whose designation is “General Innovation Operative,” and Hap have a history together. Hap does not remember his dark past as a designated HARP (short for “Human AnnihilationResponse Protocol”). By bringing Hap back to life, Vic unknowingly alerts The Authority of his family’s presence.

Gio is captured by other HARPs from The Authority and taken back to the City of Electric Dreams. Vic’s family fears they will lose Gio forever, so they make the decision to leave their home to try to save him from The Authority in a perilous adventure that puts their love and trust in each other to the test.

This fantasy/sci-fi mashup novel contains plenty of humor and heart. It asks interesting philosophical questions about humanity, many of which we glean through the eyes of robots. It’s a story of forgiveness, found family, and what it means to love unconditionally. It has accurate, positive queer representation, which is something the author, TJ Klune, always strives to provide.

In the acknowledgments at the end of the novel, Klune states, “Humanity is awful, angry, and violent. But we are also magical and musical. We dance. We sing. We create. We live and laugh and rage and cry and despair and hope. We are a bundle of contradictions without rhyme or reason. And there is no one like us in all the universe. Don’t you think we should make the most of it?”

In the Lives of Puppets can be found online and at local libraries.